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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Interview: Keri Toye of Sound VVitch.


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I had the pleasure to see this wonderful solo act Sound VVitch live TWICE and really felt I was witnessing the start of the career of a brilliant new young musician. Sinister, erotic, seductive, and evil, Sound VVitch is this combination of ritualistic dark gothic, bleak electronic noise, and gorgeous trance-inducing violin. She has this alluring voice where you are not sure if she is an angel or demon, and before the show is over, you no longer care, you willingly go wherever she is leading you. The woman behind Sound VVitch is Keri Toye, and I think you will be hearing a lot from her in the future. She has a new album out called Becoming which I can not recommend strongly enough! I had the pleasure of getting to interview Keri:

Hello and welcome to The Plutonian! Thanks for coming on! Let’s start with your project’s name. How did you come up with Sound VVitch and what does it mean to you?

Sound VVitch came about when I first started reading about witchcraft and began exploring outside the world of classical violin (somewhere around 2015-16). I could never really get into playing the violin the way it was intended, it always felt like such a chore. When I first discovered that I could play the electric violin through guitar pedals, I found a new love for the instrument as well as new forms of music. It was the first real love I had for something. Looking back at it now, it was probably the beginning of finding a more authentic version of myself, as well as a newfound appreciation for sound and the noises I could create from just a single violin. Now I use my abilities to produce sounds in a way that intends to induce a state of change in the mind and body. I think that is what is most important to me now; being able to tap into an ethereal realm. Thus, Sound VVitch.

I have seen Sound VVitch play live twice. And each time there was this wonderful sense of something dark and mysterious being evoked. I had this feeling of being entranced, of being put into this kind of somnambulist state. Your music is just so perfectly suited for live performance. Can you talk about what playing live means to you and what effect you are hoping to have on your audience during a live performance?

Like I mentioned in the previous answer, it’s all about that state change. As important as it is for me to produce that state change for myself, it is equally as important for me to help build the foundation to help my audience achieve that state as well, whether that’s a similar feeling in them, or something completely new. I think I try to produce that feeling in all of my art. It’s one of my favorite parts about being alive, getting to experience that sort of collective consciousness through art. There is so much for us to be able to discover about ourselves. Overall, I’d like to help both myself and my audience feel a sense of power in our own individual energies along with the power of our combined energies in the same room, all held up by the same foundation, creating an experience you can receive only from going to live shows. 

There is this very exquisite dark eroticism in your music that is mixed with this kind of deep longing and a definite willingness to attack the listener. Shades of gothic folk, noise, metal, and dark ambient intertwine in your music. What inspired you to make the kind of music you make? Maybe in terms of what you emotionally get out of creating it?

The curiosity of finding new sounds helps me hold new excitement about the world and living in this body. I never really felt like someone who could properly articulate my emotions with words, so music helps me capture a moment in time, a feeling in time. To be able to connect with other humans living in their bodies and with their feelings. It’s all a language, a connection; one that most can understand. 

Your lyrics combine the beautiful and the grotesque. Can you talk about your writing process? And what comes first, the lyrics or the music?

Thank you, what a beautiful way to describe my lyrics, I love that! I think it's mostly about following a feeling without end. Sometimes it feels like an out of body experience where I'm almost not in control. Of course, like everyone else, I still have those moments of frustration that can feel overwhelming where it’s not always an easy process. However, I try not to get in my own way (as difficult as that may be sometimes). I want to create things that I think are cool and not always what is expected of people. So to answer your questions, I try not to force anything when I'm attempting to write. I like things to happen organically, so I go with the flow in terms of whatever comes up first. For example, for my last song on Becoming, “The Sun Will Rust Your Bones,” the lyrics were written almost a year before the music was written. The song wasn't completely finalized until I got to the studio, and it still can’t even be labeled as finalized because I will still be playing it differently moving forward. That goes for all my songs. Both me and everything around me is always changing, and nothing is permanent, so I like to keep that in mind while I write, it helps me loosen up. 

There are so many wells of music that you seem to draw inspiration from. I could see everyone from Coil and Death in June fans, to Aghast and Chelsea Wolfe fans, to Atrax Morgue and Brighter Death Now fans loving your work. What are some of your pivotal musical influences?

I get compared to Chelsea Wolfe a fair amount, and it’s definitely not something I shy away from, she has absolutely been a pivotal influence for me. Beyond Chelsea Wolfe, however, I would say some key influences have been Bjork, Portishead, OM, Jenny Hval, Warpaint, Lykke, Li, Billie Holiday, Nine Inch Nails, CocoRosie, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Phemale, Lingua Ignota, Eartheater, The Body, Jex Toth, Thou, Poppy, Julie Christmas, Sunn 0))), HIDE, King Woman/Miserable/NGHTCRWLR, Phamakon. I am also a product of where I grew up going to shows, and the local music projects that influenced me in different ways have been: Matthew Mast, AngelForm, Voyager, Waking Judea, Ulna, I Can Dream, Sharptooth, Sunrot, Dia, Ex Astra, Temple Ov Saturn, Sun Voyager, Outlier, Caitlin Baucom and all of the noise community from Ithaca, NY to NYC. 

Do you believe in witchcraft, and/or associate yourself with any kind of say, pagan, esoteric, or occult beliefs?

I try not to confine or define myself as one thing. I understand myself to be forever changing and growing. So sometimes I feel weird about calling myself a witch. Or maybe sometimes I feel like I don't deserve the title. However I do believe in witchcraft. I believe in natural medicines and the power that comes with nature. For me, witchcraft has a lot to do with introspection and helping me with my mental health. It’s the first spiritual practice I have found that doesn't try to tell me what to do. Of course there are certain ways to practice in order to help bring more power to the spell or ritual, however I gravitate more towards the witchcraft that encourages me to take the reigns because we all have our own experiences and everyone accepts and reacts to everything differently. Witchcraft helps me feel like I have control over myself unlike anything else has before. The project is called Sound VVitch because I believe in the power of music as a collective and I believe it can be a form of healing. Live settings are even more powerful because of all the energies in one room feeling all the same vibrations. The name also originated, made sense to me and stuck when I began to do sound/drone meditations/rituals with myself. I'm not sure if any “qualified” witches would claim that as witchcraft but I don't believe it needs to be confirmed by others to be deemed authentic to me. 

How has it been touring? What kind of reactions do you get to your performances?

I’ve only had the pleasure of touring once with The Russian White during the summer of 2018. It was a life changing experience and I was able to ask myself if touring was something that I would want to do for a while or even forever and the answer was yes. After that tour I set up my own little weekend tour in November of 2018. That made me realize it was going to be difficult to do all of this by myself, which led me to start the search for finding band members. 

Are you into horror fiction at all? Or horror cinema? And if so, what would be some of your recommendations/favorites?

Horror is absolutely my favorite genre. Always specifically looking out for a good score and for good visuals in horror cinema. I wish I could say I read more horror fiction but I just can’t get into reading much fiction in general. I’m open to recommendations though! So some of my favorite horror films are: Nosferatu (1979), Hellraiser, The VVitch, Under The Skin, Blue Velvet, Suspiria, The Void, Images, The Shining, All The Colors of the Dark, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Nightmare Castle, Event Horizon, Eyes of Fire, Midsommar…...

I hear you have gone from a solo act to including some other members into your musical project. A bassist and a drummer right? What brought that about and how has that been going?

That weekend tour in 2018 that I mentioned earlier was definitely an eye opener for me. I realized how difficult and lonely it is doing everything by myself. Sure, there are a lot of benefits to having a solo music project, however, beyond feeling lonely, I also felt that the songs deserved more in a live setting. I can now have all of the tones I was looking for. Miles (drums) and Justin (bass) bring so much to this project. They are both wonderful and talented in their own ways. Not only did I gain band members but I have also gained two really great friends, which I think is important for artistic endeavors. One of the reasons why I even entertained the idea was because Miles and Justin had both been persistent in asking me if I was looking for members, and that they would be willing should I ever decide. That was the main reason why I wanted to take them in. They wanted to be there, they showed initiative and they showed me that they understood my vision and my needs, even when those needs might have been cloudy for me. Not to mention they both have a wide range of talents, Miles created our website with his coding skills (soundvvitch.com), and Justin has printed a lot of our newest merch which you can also find through our website. I could probably do an entire interview gushing about both of them, but I’ll stop myself here. 

You have a new album out, Becoming! It has been on constant repeat at my house! Can you talk about your new album and what inspired you to create it?

I’m so glad you're liking it and I'm so grateful to have your support. Thank you for reaching out to me for this interview. The first thing that I would like to mention is the order of the tracks on the album. They are placed in the order in which they were created/written. I did that in order to capture the feeling of taking a journey with me in hopes that the listener can apply it to themselves or attempt to empathize. That is how most of us take in media anyways, isn't it? The foundation of the meaning of the album (and the title) rests on the idea of working through my own forms of trauma, and doing my best to continue to learn about oppression in all of its forms. Furthermore, it’s about coming to terms with all of those experiences, and coping with both loneliness and death in the face of such trauma. Facing mortality is to face an inevitable loneliness, and that is what we are all “Becoming.” 

So, what is next for Sound VVitch? What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Currently working on a stop motion music video for Bed Bugs, the first song on the record. It's been a long process in the making, and hopefully I will have it done while it is still relevant to people. I am also putting together some things that can go on our merch table when we can play shows again, whenever that may be. During quarantine I've been working on some new songs that I will probably release on my own so they won't have the same production power as “Becoming,” because i'm not a master audio engineer like my friend Brendan Williams, who recorded, produced and mixed “Becoming.” But they will be strange and they will be authentic and it is just an attempt to capture some of my raw feelings during a wild, uncertain and historical time. You can also expect some releases of remixes I did for some of my friends: The Russian White, Angel Form and STCLVR, TBA.

You can check out her music here: https://soundvvitch.bandcamp.com/

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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Article: The Nebulous Dreams of Mike Allen


Aftermath of an Industrial Accident: Stories by Mike Allen ...


So I have just read the new collection from Mike Allen, entitled Aftermath of an Industrial Accident. As a long time fan of his work, I have to just come out and say this. I don’t think Mike Allen is actually human. Honestly, I am not at all sure what he could be. I do know that he is a writer of exquisite dreamlike and surreal poetry and prose. And like clockwork you can count on a new Mike Allen story or poem or book, sure to be full of vertiginous landscapes and strangely changing characters, arriving at a pace that surely can not be human. There just seems to be some kind of dark intellect behind these “dream transmissions”. And that must be what these are. Dream transmissions from some hidden and unseen entity that goes by the name Mike Allen. Sometimes I think he is some kind of bizarre dream machine, locked away in some derelict factory’s sub-basement, churning out mad book after mad book. Sometimes I think he is some kind of nightmare octopus, sending its sickly, corrupting tentacles out in the form of ink and paper. But I guess it really does not matter what he is, does it? What matters is these strange books that keep appearing on my bookshelf, and the ominous and wonderful dreams that are contained within. 

Out of all of the outlets of Mike’s works, poetry collections, novels, I think my favorites are his short story collections. I don’t see his various story collections as individual works neatly divided into different subject matter, but as transmissions of whatever dream space Mike is exploring recently. He creates these short story collections that seem like they are transported directly out of one of Mike’s dreams. He reminds me a bit of Clark Ashton Smith or Ray Bradbury, in the freedom he takes in using different writing genres as if they were different paints to be used, and for his ability to put his imagination directly on paper, deeply personal and deeply obscure. Mike’s work engages all the various genres of imaginative fiction, weird sci-fi, fantasy, magic realism, etc. But most of Mike’s work tends to skew more towards the horror end of the genre spectrum, but Mike is rarely pessimistic in his writing, no matter how surreal or bizarre his stories get, you can feel the creator in the background absolutely loving what he is writing, and Mike’s love of horror and fantasy is infectious. This is horror written out of joy, out of love. 

Throughout Mike’s career, he has written many tales which to me are just essential. In his first collection, Unseaming, it contains some of the absolute masterworks of contemporary weird horror. In Her Acres of Pastoral Playground, a man and his wife are trying to survive in this Lovecraftian post-apocalyptic world. He is trying to keep the day to day life he loves going, but strange ruptures in reality keep twisting and mutilating reality and his wife's body. In The Button Bin, you have a tale of incestuous relations, corruptions of the body, strange parasitic entities, and mysterious boxes of buttons. The story is about this missing girl, the victim of a car crash and an abduction. But she is not really present in the story, it more revolves around the men who desire her, and who wish her harm. One of the men knew her physically in the most forbidden of fashions, the other man broke down her body and absorbed her into himself, thereby, perversely, knowing her inside and out. The two men end up meeting in this tale of obsession and jealousy. By centering the story on the men, it finds a kind of troubling understanding of their motivations, and a deeper view into their grotesque desires. And the story has this ending that brings their obscene longings closer together, physically enveloping each other in a finale straight out of the darkest regions of nightmare. The story of The Button Bin continues and enlarges in scale and disturbing imagery in its sequels The Quiltmaker, also found in Unseaming, and in The Comforter, which can be found in the short novel/novella omnibus A Sinister Quartet. The Button Bin, The Quiltmaker, and The Comforter make for one of the most bizarre and epic trilogies in the history of horror literature. The “Button Bin” trilogy centers on these creatures which are made up of humans enveloped in humans enveloped in humans, to the point where they are no longer human, “Buttoning” them together in what must be one of the most striking concepts I have ever read. It has this kind of fairy tale heart but is full-on body horror and walks the line between mind-bending horror and dark fantasy tale. With work this original, you are kind of taken aback, you read along, no idea where the story is leading, and ending up in a place you could not have predicted. In another of my favorites tales from Unseaming, The Blessed Days, every human wakes up covered in blood, every, single, day. This is another story that operates in this kind of hazy dream logic. Mayan mythology, dreams of other dimensions, and strange worm hydras intertwine in this tale of the absolute best kind of nightmare horror fiction. Unseaming is one of the masterworks of modern horror, in turns bizarre, macabre, and unsettling. 

In his follow up collection The Spider Tapestries, Mike serves us with a more delirious collection, certainly a bit more in the realm of fantasy than his previous collection Unseaming. In the self-titled story The Spider Tapestries we find a non-human world of spiders and their drug-induced dreamings. In Twa Sisters, Mike explores modeling and the imagery of the human body by exploding it into 1,000 different strange and new forms. I think if Unseaming was a collection of dread-inducing nightmares, The Spider Tapestries is a delirium machine, seeking to show with each strange new marvel how erotic and delightfully unsettling the transforming of reality can be. 

Now with Mike’s new collection, Aftermath of an Industrial Accident, he brings these two approaches to dreamlike prose together. It’s a wonderful collection of poetry and short stories that run the gamut from his most fantastic work to his most disturbing work. In this collection, you will find some of the most innovative and groundbreaking fiction being written today. In With Shining Gifts that Took All Eyes, you have this young couple and this peculiar plant the boyfriend took home after a day of hiking. While he is in the other room seemingly preoccupied, the woman finds herself mystified and alarmed by the sound of boys screaming her name from outside her windows, where night is falling and a hazy fog obscures sight. Meanwhile, something seems to be stalking her inside the house, something that may have to do with the plant that they recently brought into the house. Overshadowing all this there is a strange sexual tension and a sinister atmosphere of obscurity that is palpable. This is one of the great works of horror fiction of the past twenty years. My description does not do justice to the tenebrous strangeness of this work. And now to look at another one of my favorites from this collection, have you ever just caught a glimpse of a film on television, some scene that just transfixes you to the screen, and you obsess over what that film was and make it a mission to track that film down? His story Tardigrade is just like that. It seems to be the middle of a scene of some murky narrative. A woman is trapped in a room that is being observed and possibly recorded by some kind of outside intellect, that may or may not be human. She is compelled to watch on a computer screen a video recording of her husband being forced to undergo some kind of metamorphosis brought upon him by a shadowy figure who may be a human woman, she delivers what is seemingly a kind of parasite through her mouth and into his body, changing him utterly. Answers are not readily available, but you will be thinking of this story long after you put the book down. 

Mike Allen may be the premier poet of this era of weird horror and surrealist fantasy. His work is completely fearless. He takes no genre boundaries as sacred. He writes in whatever mode best suits his vision. His writing style is instantly recognizable but what you will be getting from a new work from Mike is far from known, he changes subject matter and method of attack with every work. Be Mike Allen an infernal dream machine, a phantasmic octopus, or a regular human being, I don’t think matters at this point, my brain is so saturated with his infectious nightmare visions, that I can no longer tell the difference between the three anymore.